As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Jan 2, 2023: Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati was electric. The Buffalo Bills had traveled from western New York to the chilly shores of the Ohio River for a pivotal late-season showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams were jockeying for playoff seeding and figured, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, to be the prohibitive favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The matchup was happening in prime time, on the venerable Monday Night Football, and before schools, work and life’s hectic tempo had fully resumed from the holiday breather - it was the perfect night for football.
The game started as expected; the fervor somehow pumped out of the heart of the stadium, through television feeds and into the beings of every lucky football soul watching it. With Cincinnati leading 7-3 with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Bengals QB Joe Burrow connected with WR Tee Higgins over the middle. As Higgins crossed midfield, he collided with and was tackled by Buffalo S Damar Hamlin.
It was an innocuous play. Television coverage panned to the crowd, then to Higgins as he walked back to the huddle. Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck casually noted that another Bills player was down. NFL fans are trained to listen for clues. A quick replay or joint being tended to by trainers can indicate the nature of an injury. Mention of a cart is bad news; lack of evident movement and immobilization measures are far worse. Hamlin’s situation quickly moved beyond the imaginable football injuries. Within minutes an ambulance was the on field and CPR was being performed. Hamlin was in cardiac arrest.
In the weeks since, Hamlin has made a remarkable recovery, the latest feel-good evidence being his first public statement released last week via Instagram. And with his progress has come an opportunity to contemplate what happened that night, how Hamlin’s life was saved and what else it says about the course of human existence.
The most obvious standing ovation goes to the medical personal at Paycor Stadium and the Cincinnati and Buffalo hospitals who tended to Hamlin. Imagine running to a downed player’s aid expecting to encounter a dislocated shoulder, a balky knee or a high ankle sprain – routine football stuff - and finding a player in cardiac arrest. To have the skill and poise to perform so exquisitely in those precious moments after Hamlin collapsed, and then to nurse him back to health in the weeks that followed…simply amazing.
Few, if any, have been in Hamlin’s situation on that fateful Monday night. But roam this planet long enough and every one of us will face a health crisis – either personally or with a loved one. The odds of developing cancer alone in one’s lifetime is roughly 40%. In those sobering moments, you are completely dependent on the talents of others. Where those medical experts hail from, the color of their skin, their gender identity – all the divisive, and sometimes hateful nonsense that infects humanity - is reduced to rubble.
Widen the aperture. Look around. The appliances in your house. The “phone” in your hand. The food on your table. The goods that efficiently move around the globe. The mail that gets picked up and delivered daily. The knowledge being conveyed in classrooms. The stuff – cars, HVAC units, leaky pipes – that gets repaired by tradesmen. The grocery shelves that are always stocked. The coffee and gas that is consistently available at convenience stores. How did these things get created? How did they get delivered? How is it all maintained?
The world: what an extraordinary machine.
There has been much rhetoric in recent years about the need for nationalism, for America to look inward, to end support for Ukraine, to build walls and to retreat into tribes, etc. and so forth. Worse, pre-existing prejudices have been preyed upon and weaponized to breed division and weaken our shared cause. The reality is we need each other. All of us. Doing our things. We are interconnected and interdependent - for the mundane, the underappreciated, the assumed and for desperate situations when a life hangs in the balance.